The White Man’s Burden in Video Games – Opinion Piece

Why an outside force has no right to pass judgement

Disclaimer: As my focus is on reviewing games, this might be the only essay by me on this particular issue.

Video games are a great past-time for all ages that anyone can pick up and put down at any time. They come on different platforms, and as different genres, ranging from cutesy jump’n’runs for all ages, like Super Mario Bros. (since 1985), to borderline masochistic action role-playing games for mature audiences, like Dark Souls (2011), from single player, like Far Cry (2004), to massive multiplayer, like World of Warcraft (since 2004). It’s l’art pour l’art, anything is possible and no demographic is left untouched: Dating simulations (恋愛ゲーム), for example, not only reel in straight boys with an onslaught of dateable women, but do the same for straight girls in otome games (乙女ゲーム), or for gays with boys love titles (ボーイズラブゲーム). Video games are so diverse and of varying styles that one would imagine that there wouldn’t be any societal problems regarding this hobby, aside from occasional debates on preference and quality. Sadly, since around 2012, a lot of outcries of misogyny and sexism have been circulating due to North American pop culture critics on North American social media services. But how much merit do they hold?

What got me to write this opinion piece is a video by Danika Lee Massey (aka Comic Book Girl 19) that was published on June 1st, 2016, where she talks about Captain America writer Nick Spencer receiving death threats on social media after the Captain America #1 comic book had been announced. The video can be seen on YouTube under https://youtu.be/93xtez5j1vE and is titled Captain America #1 Outrage Reaction | Thor Ragnarok adds Planet Hulk | Miles Morales Spider-Man*. Massey describes the situation as a “crazy mob witch hunt” (04:59) and rightfully says that “[if] you guys can’t handle this sort of stuff, then you don’t belong in comic books. Like, you can get the [f*ck] out, to be quite honest with you” (6:10 – 6:17) and that “[this] is just story telling, guys. Like, it’s for fun.” (6:50 – 7:00)

She further states that she “[thinks] a lot of the people who are upset are people who don’t even read [f*cking] comic books in the first place. Uh, they’re just people who are familiar with the movies and, you know, familiar with these characters as ideas, not as actual, like, living breathing characters in a [f*cking], you know, active continuity. […]” (5:10 – 5:26). However, it wasn’t until her finishing statement that I got compelled. Massey remarks, “[so], you know, you guys gotta stop out there, who’s [sic!], like, witch hunting people. […] And especially if you don’t actually go to the comic book store and pick up anything. I don’t think you have much of a right to say anything about anything. Like, ‘coz you’re not, you’re not a part of the community.” (08:18 – 08:35)

Even though I believe that among these threats might be a few teenagers who don’t really mean it and got carried away by their emotional investment, Massey’s last statement is surprisingly similar to what some video game enthusiasts say regarding the abrupt climate change within their own fringe group. They feel that, because both comic books and video games were suddenly moved from the periphery to the center of pop culture and consumerism in the early 2000s, suddenly audiences, who don’t participate in the medium are demanding to dictate the direction this past-time is going.

Starting with the Angry Video Game Nerd (2004) and Let’s Plays (starting ca. 2006), video games took over the internet and social media by storm. But it wasn’t until around 2012, with the advent of Feminist Frequency, when a new, vocal, pretty much almost exclusively Anglican group of pop culture critics and entourage joined in on a grand scale and decided to comment on nerd culture – even if they obviously do not associate with it, are rarely seen engaging in it, and have little to no interest in directly interacting with the community. They just joined this new hip in-crowd to redirect attention to themselves and a narrative that has almost nothing in common with the actual demographic.

Anita Sarkeesian, for example, criticizes Bayonetta (2009), stating that the game is “basically a choose-your-own, patriarchal adventure porno fantasy.” (Feminist Frequency: Bayonetta And Advertising Original, reupload by NastyOpinions, June 16th, 2012, 2:39 – 2:43, https://youtu.be/XbihPTgAql4) despite Bayonetta not only being popular among female gamers, but also the design of Mari Shimazaki (島崎麻里). These individuals introduced themselves as gamers or nerds, despite immediately proceeding to baselessly criticize many developers, publishers, and fans from all over the world, insinuating that they and their conventions are racist, misogynist, discriminative, or overall exclusive. However, these critics often fail to cite sources for these bold statements and engage in either accidental or deliberate quotemining that changes in-game contexts. Often times, their articles and videos, supposedly about games, talk about elements that have little to no connection to games whatsoever. Instead, they focus on allegations of sexism or lack of gender identity. This is very sad as the broader truth to the community and companies behind gaming looks very different. And if more actually got to know this gaming subculture, their views would certainly not look like that.

Video game players are a wide number of people from across the globe and generally, the community is very welcoming with only two things they care about: fun and skill. This is escapism after all. That’s why it’s perfectly natural that one of the most renowned and idolized tournament players world wide is Kayo Satō (佐藤 かよ, aka Kayo Police). She is a transgender model and also one of the top ranking Street Fighter players out there. Everyone in the fighting game community looks up to her skill and she gets lots of cheers whenever she shows up at big tournaments like Evo. If the community were truly excluding transgenders, this wouldn’t be the case. If women weren’t part of gaming and if it were actually perceived by its members as a “safe male space” (Jimquisition: Anita Sarkeesian – The Monster Gamers Created, Escapist, October 24th, 2012, 03:27, https://youtu.be/8MxANWWhpMs), as Jim Sterling describes it in one of his videos, no one would care about Jennifer “Jen” Tan’s Street Fighter matches, listen to Marie-Laure Norindr’s (aka Kayane) talks about Dead or Alive’s game mechanics, read Liana Kerzner’s articles, follow KiteTales and Flex’s escapades, or let girls like YellowKillerBee even run at AGDQ. But they are there, because, generally speaking, there is no discriminatory wall, anyone is welcome to join and participate. And these are also not isolated cases. When playing competitive games online or talking about gaming trivia, I regularly get my butt handed to me by girls.

The gaming subculture is also not just home to transgender and biological girls, Halfcoordinated is one of the most beloved speedrunners despite being unable to use his right hand, however, no one in the community cares about that. That is the beauty of this subculture. People can be themselves, anyone can join, because players care about gameplay. Most are also not interested in a person’s skin color (like mine), or age, as Shirley Curry certainly proves. If anything of this sort would matter, no one would be interested in Salman Rushdie’s love for Super Mario World (1990). So where do these cries for misgony and discrimination come from? And why are these pop culture critics who perpetuate them, not seen actually engaging with the community, never spotted participating in cosplay, and never show up at conventions or tournaments?

Video games already transcend so many immaterial, conventional borders; they have always transcended these borders. Of course there are always some who behave like pricks, but they are the minority. The only people in gaming who incessantly talk about discrimination, exclusivity, and privilege are a few Western pop culture critics and their followers, both of whom don’t know the subculture and only pretend to have joined it to be part of an in-crowd. Yet they feel that they need to educate and civilize these people about their hobby (of all things), even if they don’t know anything about them.

As always, feel free to leave a comment, whether you agree, disagree, like to make suggestions, or just to voice an opinion. The comment section is completely open with no need to make an account or sign in.

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7 comments

  1. Very interesting thread Gao Li! I think the reason why developer tend to more and more undress and enlarge women breasts in the video game industry, is in order to fulfil the gamer’s wish. Could we imagine playing DOA or even Street fighter or Soul Calibur without any sexual oufit and natural size women breast? The answer is “no”. Some people only cares about that specifity and won’t follow the licence if they decide to change it. Even the fanart of those games are most of the time sexy women with big breast with a sexy outfit.

    Only a few players doesn’t mind about those sexy oufits. Let’s just see all the DLC that Team Ninja are selling. Most of them are clearly sexy outfit. It sells well, developers only respond to the player demand.

    I am not saying it’s good or bad but a company needs to propose a product that will fulfill the custommer’s wish. Nowaday, all fighting games use the “sexy oufit and even more” to sell their products on the top of the market.

    In the other hand, some developers, like Team Ninja tend to abuse as much as they can on sexual outfit that led sometimes to absurd and results in a bad reputation on the competitive scene.

    Like

    • To be frank, at first I was not quite sure how to respond at first.

      To be perfectly honest with you, to me it depends. And this is just personal preference here. I hated Ayumi in X-Blades so much that I didn’t even finish the game, let alone get very far in it. She’s just a blonde, tanned person in a g-string, because reasons. I also prefer cargo pants Lara over hot pants Lara, because it just seems more like something someone would wear in that kind of situation.

      On the other hand, I love Bayonetta’s visual design and character, because they gave her a proper personality and reason for that attire. I also like the art style in Leisure Suit Larry 7, even though I’m not sure if the game itself holds up. (Recently watched the Let’s Play by Pushing Up Roses), and I like Chun-Li, because she’s just straight up awesome.

      I think in fighting games, generally speaking, a lot of characters are charicatures or at the very least, overexaggerations. I mean, in Street Fighter, every single one of them is a walking trope, and I’m saying that as a Street Fighter fan.

      I also like when games not only have sexy girls, but cute guys with great cheek bones and proper grooming. Resident Evil does a pretty good job in that department.

      Lastly, I’m a fan of somewhat natural proportions. I mean, breasts come in different cupsizes, but I’m not the biggest fan of disproportionally large gazongas.

      Like

  2. Excellent, well put.

    Video games and overall “geek culture” as always been a home to people who were outcasts of their peers, the result was an extremely diverse sub group of people who didn’t care about color, sex, gender, or nationalities, we all shared a common interest and passion for things that people ridiculed us for and deemed “uncool” to be interested in.

    Nothing has changed, we’re still getting bullied by the popular kids just like we did decades ago, the only difference is that these “popular kids” are citing virtues like “diversity”, “inclusion”, and “equality” as veiled excuses to attack what they don’t like or don’t understand. These “culture critics” are very same kind bullies that we tried to get away from back when geek culture began.

    No matter what, we’re still being attacked for enjoying the things we love.

    Like

    • I know that it’s just video games, but I wish there were more journalistic integrity, objectivity, or research put into these matters.

      To me, it gets worse when you have these same people commenting about other aspects like politics or history, topics that definitely require diligence, objectivity, factual knowledge, understanding, and level-headedness.

      Like

  3. “Video game players are a wide number of people from across the globe and generally, the community is very welcoming with only two things they care about: fun and skill.” and i can add……variety which is the result of letting all different ppl participate in making them and also forgetting about taboos and many unnecessary red lines.plus that no threat is accepted against anyone. good job Gao Li. :10/10

    Liked by 1 person

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